Atlanta mayoral candidates Moore and Dickens vow to bring the city together
By Maria Saporta
It’s now down to two.
Either City Council President Felicia Moore or City Councilman Andre Dickens will be the next mayor of Atlanta.
After attending a couple of debates and forums last week between both candidates, I interviewed Moore and Dickens on Saturday to drill down on some topics of special interest to me.
What kind of relationship will they have with the business community and the Atlanta Committee for Progress?
What kind of relationship will they have with the Atlanta Regional Commission and other organizations that have a regional or statewide focus?
How do they feel about the future of the “Atlanta Way”? That’s a concept viewed differently by various groups — some positive, some negative. But in its best sense, it refers to an Atlanta where all races worked together to move the city forward.
I also asked them to describe their leadership style — should they win or should they lose — including their feelings about their opponent.
In short, I was reassured by their answers, which I will share with you.
When asked about the Atlanta Committee for Progress, a high-powered group of business and civic leaders that has served as a blue-ribbon cabinet for the past three administrations, Moore said she looked forward to working closely with the organization with a few tweaks.
“I want to be sure the organization is as inclusive as it can be,” Moore said in an interview following a spirited women’s rally at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. “I won’t look at them as a piggy bank, but as a resource. I think ACP is uniquely qualified to help me with staffing and building out our cabinet. That’s the kind of resource I want them to be.”
She also said she would want their relationship to be “very intentional” to make sure the city is “dealing with generational poverty in our city. Let’s not just talk about it. Let’s do something. But I’m not there to be their boss to tell them what to do.”
Dickens said he also intends to have a “great relationship with ACP,” but he added that he would challenge the leaders in the room “to meet expectations of an exceptional corporate citizen” by having them commit to equity and inclusivity in their respective organizations.
“I believe they have a wealth of knowledge and a wealth of connections that I’m going to lean on,” Dickens said. “I’m going to ask them for talent and for help with a set of audits of the city’s constituent-facing services — business licenses, procurement, public works.”
Dickens said he did not favor ACP becoming more independent of city leadership. The mayor serves and a member of ACP’s board, and the meetings center around the mayor’s schedule and agenda..
“We don’t need another quasi-government,” Dickens said. “We need them to be supportive of the mayor. We already have a chamber of commerce. Why do we want to create an independent ACP?”
When it comes to forging stronger regional relationships, both said they would make that a priority.
Moore said she has already been building those relationships by serving on the board of the Atlanta Regional Commission and working with the Georgia Municipal Associations as well as the National League of Cities.
“I know it’s important for the city to show up, and even more important that the mayor shows up,” Moore said in an indirect swipe at Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who never attended an ARC board meeting during her four years in office.
Both Moore and Dickens pledged to revive the Metro Atlanta Mayors Association (MAMA), which was launched when Shirley Franklin was mayor but was not a priority for either Mayor Kasim Reed or Bottoms.
“Being the mayor of the capital city of this state is important,” Moore said, adding that building regional relationships will be critical “when Atlanta needs help” to fight back takeover attempts of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport or efforts for Buckhead to secede from the City of Atlanta.
“I will be an engaged mayor who shows up,” Moore said. “When we have a threat like Buckhead City or airport takeover, they would be there to support the city.”
Dickens, in a telephone interview Saturday night, said he believes he “will be a great regional mayor.”
For example, he will attend the Fulton County Council of Mayors, a council Reed and Bottoms rarely attended
“I’ll definitely go to ARC — me or a designee,” Dickens said. “The issues I’m concerned about are all regional issues — workforce, homelessness, public safety, transportation. I’m going to need all the support I can get. I will be open, inclusive and available.”
When it comes to MAMA, Dickens said: “The more municipal support we have, the better off we will be. “If our wires get crossed with the state — such as airport takeover or Buckhead city — we will have a collective voice.”
Dickens added that he has “an intellectual curiosity that is helpful to me, and I think it will be helpful to the city.”
Both Moore and Dickens pledged to work hard if they are elected mayor, making sure they have an open door at City Hall to hear from citizens.
Moore said as soon as she’s elected on Nov. 30, she will call Bill White, the leader of the Buckhead City movement, “to have some frank discussions.” She also will call the leaders who are advocating for Buckhead to remain part of the city.
In her mind, the “Atlanta Way” is about bringing people together.
She does not currently see Atlanta as a place where people from all parts of the city are coming together to address problems.
“We are not having those cross-over conversations,” Moore said. “We have to bring people together. And as mayor, I want to find ways to bring people together.” During the general election, Moore said she was able to garner support from all over the city, “not just in North Atlanta.”
Dickens said “the Atlanta Way” that is existed when he was born was not a “one and done,” but it needs to evolve.
“We need an Atlanta Way 2.0,” Dickens said. “It should have already begun to adjust and adapt. The model should change, and it should change as rapidly as possible. We need Black, Hispanic and Asian leaders to emerge.”
Dickens said he would push for civic leaders to address the widening wealth gap in the city.
“We need intentionality by the business community and the city,” Dickens said. “We have got to have balanced economic growth. There’s so much need in the Black community, like grocery stores.”
Both candidates were asked how they would treat their opponent should they win.
“Felicia and I have known each other for many years. She was my district representative. I had a business in her district,” Dickens said. “I respect her a lot. Should I win, I will be asking for her support. I’m not going to hold grudges. I’m going to keep moving forward. We have got too much work to do.”
Then he added: “I draw circles. I don’t draw lines. I want to bring people together.”
When asked about Dickens, Moore said “Andre and I do not have an adversarial relationship.” She did add they are in a middle of a political campaign, and, as expected, tensions are high.
“I’m not someone who goes around retaliating against people who did not support me,” Moore said.
At a Leadership Atlanta Forum on Nov. 17, both candidates were asked if they would accept an endorsement from former Mayor Reed. After a bit of prodding, Dickens said: “No.”
When asked the same question, Moore said there’s no way Reed would endorse her, and she would not accept it.
Dickens did receive the endorsement of Mayor Bottoms on Nov. 19. In the interview, he dispelled a rumor her endorsement came with strings – namely that he would include attorney Alvin Kendall on his team if he’s elected.
Kendall, a convicted felon, has been a confidante of Bottoms. He has been representing the city in numerous legal transactions, which have alienated many in the community from the Atlanta Public Schools to Zoo Atlanta.
“Somebody told me to watch out for that,” Dickens said. “Keisha and I have talked quite a bit through the cycle. If she would have made that a condition, I would not have accepted her endorsement.”
As I wrote in an earlier column, Atlanta is fortunate to have two good people vying to be mayor of Atlanta. They clearly have their respective strengths and weaknesses, but overall, they are both good-hearted and well-intentioned.
As evidence, take their answers of what they would do if they lost the election.
“I’m fighting for this city. If I’m not successful, they’ll still see me,” Moore said. “They’ll still see me at City Hall fighting for the city.
When asked the same question, Dickens’ response was similar.
“If I lose, I will offer my services to the winner,” he said. “I will offer my services to the city.”
Next week’s column will explore the history, present and future of the Atlanta Committee for Progress and explore possible options for how it should operate during the next mayoral administration.